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The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

The Last Man (1826)

by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

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Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
This one had a (very) few interesting elements, and the account of the plague overwhelming the world was pretty chilly ... but overall, hardly a surprise this this novel has been largely forgotten. ( )
  JBD1 | Dec 28, 2018 |
Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” showed promise near the beginning:

“There is no fruition in their vacant kindness, and sharp rocks lurk beneath the smiling ripples of these shallow waters.”

And then took nearly two hundred pages to find another passage worth recording:

“She described in vivid terms the ceaseless care that with still renewing hunger ate into her soul; she compared this gnawing of sleepless expectation of evil, to the vulture that fed on the heart of Prometheus; under the influence of this eternal excitement, and of the interminable struggles she endured to combat and conceal it, she felt, she said, as if all the wheels and springs of the animal machine worked at double rate, and were fast consuming themselves.”

A main character dies in part one only to resurrect immediately from false rumor in the subsequent section—and I didn’t even give a shit. I could not wait to finish this book. Which saddens me since I enjoyed what I’ve read from Shelley, namely: “Frankenstein”, “The Pilgrims” and an assortment of short stories. I understand that it’s a precursor to what would become standard in the SF tradition, that it was a statement about the female voice (her own, really) in literature in her time, that it had incorporated a host of personal tragedies (the deaths of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and two children, as well as their friend, Lord Byron), and that she had felt herself to be “The Last Man”, cut off from intellectual and emotional support and left in a world scarred with its own kind of plague. But, Jesus, did the whole work need to be so boring? For all the effort expended, the experiences and influences that had informed it, I was unprepared for the work to be largely expositional, emotionally detached (or ridiculously hyperbolic, which felt like the same thing, truthfully) and fraught with awkward phrasing. Any glittering poetic moment was quickly strangled in overlong sentences stuffed with information that neither propelled the narrative nor added substance to the imagery. And the last man of the title? Yeah, that doesn’t fucking happen until the final pages. So you go through this whole tedious ordeal only to be left with a man alone in an unfamiliar world trying to reckon his own humanity in the absence of any humankind. Later, Richard Matheson would explore this idea with unrivaled proficiency in “I Am Legend”.

Forerunner or not, classic or not, “The Last Man” failed me in so many ways as to be exemplary. I honestly cannot think offhand when I’ve been so absolutely disappointed in a book. Any social statements that the work may have offered were undercut by being too close to the subject, losing objectivity, staring into a maelstrom in which the ship with one’s entire existence in its holds had been lost, only to start the narrative with the painstaking details of each person involved with loading that cargo. The on-board bill of lading would’ve been more interesting. And, truth be told, the author’s introduction, which had almost nothing to do with the book, was the most engaging bit of writing in the whole damn version that I own.

“The Last Man-This-Could-Have-Been-So-Much-Better”. Tragedy doesn’t always make for better fiction. I realize that may be sacrilege for some; especially given that this work is deemed a “classic”. And while Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is iconic, painful and blooded with first-hand tragedy, too, it’s a far more riveting story. ( )
1 vote ToddSherman | Aug 24, 2017 |
Much like all the reviews I've seen for this novel, I feel the need to preface my opinion with the statement that Frankenstein is one of my absolute favorites. This one just didn't cut it for me. The last third was an interesting picture of an empty, apocalyptic world, but the fact that it took me almost 300 pages of background information on the relationships of four one dimensional characters to get to any plot involving a plague means my suffering outweighed my enjoyment. ( )
  PagesandPints | Sep 1, 2016 |

This is in some ways a slightly silly book, but in other ways profoundly interesting. The first half of it is dominated by the debate about the best way forward for Art, and for England, between Adrian - a thinly disguised Percy Bysshe Shelley, who happens to be the displaced heir to the recently abolished British throne - and his more ebullient friend Lord Raymond, who (apologies for the spoiler) eventually dies fighting for the Greeks against the Turks; can you imagine who he might be based on? In the year 2073 there has been no advance on technology since 1826, but our chums can just live in Windsor Castle and pop down to London now and then for a spot of governing. But given the importance of the relationship between Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley to literature and especially to sf, it is fascinating to have an insight, even if a fictionalised insight, from one of the protagonists. However the interpersonal relationships bit is not as exciting as I would have liked.

The second half, when a great plague comes and wipes out humanity, is better executed but perhaps not quite as interesting. I recently read The Last Man (aka No Other Man) by Alfred Noyes, written over a century later but, I now realise, leaning a bit on Shelley; in both cases, the surviving central characters flee the post-holocaust England through a devastated France to find refuge in Italy. There are some great descriptions of places Shelley must herself have known quite well, and she doesn't shirk the awfulness of death by disease (which she had far too much personal experience of). Romantic ideals fail through death of the gallant protagonists. (Adrian, the Shelley character, drowns in a boating accident, in case you were wondering.)

There's a nice framing narrative of Shelley herself finding the text of the story in prophecy in the cave of the Cumaean Sibyl near Naples. And in general, it's very interesting as an early example of post-apocalyptic fiction. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in knowing what happened to the author after Frankenstein - which was written 200 years ago this summer. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Aug 22, 2016 |
My fortunes have been, from the beginning, an exemplification of the power that mutability may possess over the varied tenor of man's life tl;dr version: More interesting as an artefact of early post-apocalyptic literature, and perhaps for the lightly hidden portraits of Shelley and Byron by someone who knew them very well. Hard going as a leisure read, but definitely interesting. This is no doubt, one of the earliest of the post-apocalyptic novels (although the post-apocalyptic tradition itself is immeasurably older). From that point of view it's fascinating. The book is set in an early 2000's that looks remarkably like the 1800's, other than England is a republic, the king having abdicated. Otherwise, there is still a war going on in Greece, class is still the biggest societal divide, and really, the society portrayed is more of a portrait of what was going on when it was written than any guess at how society itself may have changed in the future. Plotwise... well there's about 20 different plots going on at once here. It's very convoluted and involves many complicated love triangles and squares and possibly other polygons. Until, rather later in the book than I expected, tragedy strikes, as a vicious plague starts to kill everyone, everywhere. England, at first thought immune, quarantines itself, but eventually even that falls. It's terribly tragic, and awfully romantic (in the period sense, definitely not in the modern genre sense). As is typical of the time, and of Shelley's writing itself, it's quite dense. Here's the first paragraph: I am the native of a sea-surrounded nook, a cloud-enshadowed land, which, when the surface of the globe, with its shoreless ocean and trackless continents, presents itself to my mind, appears only as an inconsiderable speck in the immense whole; and yet, when balanced in the scale of mental power, far outweighed countries of larger extent and more numerous population. So true it is, that man's mind alone was the creator of all that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first minister. England, seated far north in the turbid sea, now visits my dreams in the semblance of a vast and well-manned ship, which mastered the winds and rode proudly over the waves. In my boyish days she was the universe to me. When I stood on my native hills, and saw plain and mountain stretch out to the utmost limits of my vision, speckled by the dwellings of my countrymen, and subdued to fertility by their labours, the earth's very centre was fixed for me in that spot, and the rest of her orb was as a fable, to have forgotten which would have cost neither my imagination nor understanding an effort. It doesn't really get any lighter from there either! I found I could only stand a chapter or two a day, before I had to go hunting for some lighter fare. It's also really really long. You'll need either a classical education (which I don't have) or wikipedia on speed dial I think, to even make sense of a lot of the allusions. For instance the prologue is a tale of a journey to the sybilline oracles cave (and you are expected to know all about her already, which I didn't, much), and contains multiple quotes in several foreign languages. Personally I find that kind of thing fun if I'm in the mood for it, ymmv. It's also fascinating reading if you're interested in Byron and Shelley. Mary was banned by her father-in-law from writing about Shelley in a real biography, so she wrote him into her novels instead, and here a main character (Adrian) is heavily modelled on him (albeit unwittingly, according to her own letters.) Meanwhile another major character, Lord Raymond, is apparently suspiciously like Byron, the original mad, bad and dangerous to know character. Raymond is certainly all three of those. Readily available from Project Gutenberg among other places. ( )
  krazykiwi | Aug 22, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraftprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aldiss, BrianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bickley, PamelaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De Zordo, OrnellaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Friedrich, Caspar DavidIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hall, SarahIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McWhir, AnneEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Melchiorri, Maria FelicitaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mellor, Anne KostelanetzIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paley, Morton D.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piercy, MargeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tarr, JudithIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Let no man seek
Henceforth to be foretold what shall befall
Him or his children.
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I visited Naples in the year 1818.
... there is but one solution to the intricate riddle of life: to improve ourselves, and contribute to the happiness of others ...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192838652, Paperback)

A futuristic story of tragic love and of the gradual extermination of the human race by plague, The Last Man is Mary Shelley's most important novel after Frankenstein. With intriguing portraits of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, the novel offers a vision of the future that expresses a reaction against Romanticism, and demonstrates the failure of the imagination and of art to redeem the doomed characters.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:41 -0400)

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It is the twenty-first century, and England is a republic governed by a ruling elite, one of whom, Adrian, Earl of Windsor, has introduced a Cumbrian boy to the circle. This outsider, Lionel Verney, narrates, a tale of complicated, tragic love, and of the gradual extermination of the human race by plague.--From publisher's description.… (more)

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